US Calls For ‘Humane Treatment’ Of Americans Captured In Ukraine

People fly the American flag, NATO flag, and European Union flag alongside the Ukrainian flag at a “Stand With Ukraine” rally in Times Square on February 26, 2022, in New York City. Ukrainians, Ukrainian-Americans and allies gathered to show support for Ukraine and protest against the Russian invasion. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images/AFP Alexi J. Rosenfeld / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

 

The United States on Thursday urged Russia to treat any American volunteers captured while fighting alongside Ukrainian troops as prisoners of war guaranteed humane treatment.

The State Department also said that a third American was believed to be missing in Ukraine in addition to two military veterans who were reportedly seized by Russian forces in a pitched battle last week.

“The Russians have certain obligations and members of the Ukrainian armed forces — including volunteers who may be third-country nationals incorporated into the armed forces — should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Prisoners of war must be “afforded the treatment and protections commensurate with that status, including humane treatment and fundamental process and fair-trial guarantees,” he said.

Families and members of Congress said Wednesday that Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans who had been living in Alabama, lost contact with their relatives last week while fighting with Ukrainian forces near the Russian border.

Price said the United States could not confirm details on the pair and also that there were reports of a third US citizen who was said to have gone missing “in recent weeks.”

The Geneva Conventions, originating in the 19th century and updated after World War II, define the rights of prisoners of war including barring torture and guaranteeing medical treatment.

Under former president George W Bush, the United States controversially labelled fighters detained in the “war on terror” as enemy combatants rather than prisoners of war, circumventing protections under the Geneva Conventions.

President Joe Biden’s administration, while sending billions of dollars worth of weapons and economic aid to Ukraine, argues that the United States is not directly fighting Russia and has discouraged Americans from traveling to the war zone.

Three Dead, 11 Wounded In Philadelphia Street Shooting

This photo shows a police car behind police tape blocking a street leading to the Jacksonville Landing area in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, August 26, 2018, where three people were killed, including the gunman, and 11 others wounded.

 

Three people were killed and 11 others wounded late Saturday in the US city of Philadelphia after multiple shooters opened fire into a crowd on a busy street, police said.

The nighttime barrage marked the latest mass shooting to jolt the United States, a country in the grips of a gun violence epidemic that shows no signs of abating even as lawmakers scramble for ways to reduce the carnage that has already claimed several thousand American lives this year.

Philadelphia Police Inspector D.F. Pace told reporters that two men and a woman were killed, adding that officers responding to the incident “observed several active shooters shooting into the crowd.”

“You can imagine there were hundreds of individuals enjoying South Street, as they do every single weekend, when this shooting broke out,” Pace said.

Numerous officers patrolling the popular nightlife area were already on the scene when the first shots were heard, a police deployment that Pace described as “standard” for the area on summer weekend nights.

A responding officer fired at one of the shooters, who dropped his gun and fled, though it was unclear whether the man was hit, Pace said.

Local media reported that no arrests had been made, and that as of Sunday morning the streets where the chaos erupted remained closed.

Pace said two semi-automatic handguns, one with an extended magazine, were recovered at the scene.

READ ALSO: 34 Killed, 300 Injured In Bangladesh Port Depot Fire

He added that police would have to wait until morning to review surveillance footage from nearby businesses that were closed on Saturday night.

Pace described the investigation as “fluid,” saying there were still “a lot of unanswered questions.”

The United States has been rocked by a series of high-profile mass shootings in recent weeks, including at a school in Uvalde, Texas, a church in California, a grocery store in New York and a hospital in Oklahoma.

The incidents have collectively left dozens dead.

Bystander Joe Smith, 23, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his mind had flashed to the recent incidents when he heard the first shots ring out on Saturday.

“Once it started, I didn’t think it was going to stop,” he told the outlet.

“There was guttural screaming,” he added. “I just heard screams.”

Another witness, Eric Walsh, described to the Inquirer scenes of people fleeing the shooting “coming off the street with blood splatters on white sneakers and skinned knees and skinned elbows.”

The Inquirer reported that another person was fatally shot just blocks from the scene about two hours later, but police said that the two incidents were not believed to be linked.

During warmer months, gun violence tends to spike in the United States, where there were an estimated 393 million guns in circulation in 2020, more than the number of people.

US President Joe Biden last week forcefully called for new gun control legislation in response to the recent violence, lamenting the “everyday places that have become killing fields, battlefields here in America.”

Over the last two decades, “more school-age children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active duty military combined. Think about that,” Biden said.

A bipartisan group of US senators met on Thursday to discuss a package of firearms controls, but Republicans have historically resisted tougher gun laws.

Gun violence in the United States has killed 18,564 so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings nationwide.

Nearly 10,300 of those have been suicides, it reported.

Since the Uvalde massacre on May 24 at least 26 new mass shootings have taken place, according to the archive.

AFP

US Announces Easing Visa, Family Remittance Restrictions For Cuba

This photo illustration shows a visa stamp on a foreign passport in Los Angeles on June 6, 2020. Chris DELMAS / AFP

 

 

The United States said Monday it is easing restrictions imposed during former president Donald Trump’s administration on travel to Cuba and on the sending of family remittances between the United States and the communist island.

“The Cuban people are confronting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and our policy will continue to focus on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free from repression and economic suffering,” the State Department said.

The loosening of the embargo on Cuba will see increased visa processing, including at the Havana consulate, but with most visas still handled at the US embassy in Guyana.

The statement said it will “facilitate educational connections” between the two countries, as well as support for professional research including “support for expanded internet access and remittance process companies.”

To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non-family remittances to “support independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”

It said it would increase the number of flights permitted between the US and the Caribbean island, and serving cities other than the capital Havana. It will also allow certain group visits, which are currently forbidden.

Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, tweeted that the move was “a small step in the right direction,” but emphasized that it does “not modify the embargo” in place since 1962.

“Neither the objectives nor the main instruments of the United States’ policy against Cuba, which is a failure, are changing,” he wrote.

US Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, denounced the lifting of some restrictions, saying that the Cuban regime “continues its ruthless persecution of countless Cubans from all walks of life” following unprecedented street protests last year.

The easing of travel “risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons,” he said in a statement. “Those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban heritage, also slammed the announcement, saying on Twitter that the Cuban regime “threatened Biden with mass migration and have sympathizers inside the administration.”

He said “the result is today we see the first steps back to the failed Obama policy on Cuba,” referring to former president Barack Obama’s thaw in relations with Havana, including a visit there in 2016.

Biden is seeking to tread a fine line between helping ordinary Cubans and encouraging democratic developments while not allowing the Communist regime to benefit from any easing of restrictions.

A senior administration official said Monday it was a “coincidence” that the announcement came just after Mexico said it would boycott the next Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles following Cuba’s complaints of being excluded from the meeting.

“The measures today are practical steps that we are taking to address the humanitarian situation and to respond to the needs of the Cuban people,” the official said.

The thaw comes in the wake of a series of mysterious illnesses suffered by US personnel and family members in Cuba in what has come to be known as “Havana Syndrome.”

US officials say they have yet to determine exactly what happened in the incidents but a senior official told reporters that there is an “appropriate security posture.”

US Sends Artillery To Ukraine To Destroy Russian Firepower

Ukrainian soldiers stand on an armoured personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line with Russian troops, in Izyum district, Kharkiv region on April 18, 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Ukrainian soldiers stand on an armoured personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line with Russian troops, in Izyum district, Kharkiv region on April 18, 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP

 

The push by the United States to send artillery to Ukraine aims to degrade Russian forces — not only on the immediate battlefield but over the longer term, according to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and military experts.

The United States, France, Czech Republic and other allies are sending scores of the long-range howitzers to help Ukraine blunt Russia’s mounting offensive in the eastern Donbas region.

Backed by better air defense, attack drones and Western intelligence, the allies hope that Kyiv will be able to destroy a large amount of Russia’s firepower in the looming showdown.

READ ALSO: Russia Shoots Down Two Ukrainian Drones Near Border – Governor

After returning from Kyiv, where he met Ukraine defense chiefs and President Volodymyr Zelensky, Austin told journalists in Poland early Monday that Washington’s hopes are larger than that.

Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability,” Austin said.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”

‘War of attrition’

That is a shift from Washington’s initial approach, when they simply hoped to help prevent Moscow’s seizure of the Ukrainian capital and the overthrow of Zelensky’s government.

In fact, aided by anti-aircraft and anti-armor missiles supplied by the United States and European allies, Ukrainian troops forced the Russian military to withdraw from northern Ukraine within six weeks of the February 24 invasion.

But Moscow now controls significant swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine, apparently aiming to expand to the center of the country by sending in more troops and equipment.

Their plan, experts believe, is to use long-range shelling to drive back most of Ukraine’s forces and only then send in ground troops and tanks to secure the land.

Ukraine’s best option is to fight back with superior artillery — backed by protection from air assaults — to destroy Russian firepower, according to Mike Jacobson, a US civilian expert in field artillery.

Jacobson predicted that this would lead to a “war of attrition” in which Ukraine, with ally-supplied equipment with longer ranges and more accurate targeting, could stop the Russians cold.

“I believe that superior artillery will decrease the Russians’ ability to sustain this fight,” Jacobson told AFP.

Phillips O’Brien, a University of St. Andrews professor of strategic studies who posts daily analyses of the war on Twitter, wrote that the coming artillery fight will resemble World War I, each side trying to wear the other down with grueling shelling.

The Russian army “is considerably smaller and suffered major equipment losses. Ukrainian army is smaller, but about to be much better armed,” he said.

“Russia needs to change that dynamic or it loses the attrition war.”

Rapid deployment

The US and allies are moving fast with the supplies to take advantage of the slow regrouping of Russian forces after their setback in northern Ukraine.

Already at least 18 of the 90 towed artillery pieces Washington promised in the past two weeks have been delivered to Ukrainian forces, and more are being rushed in early this week, according to a Pentagon official.

Washington is also supplying nearly 200,000 rounds of howitzer ammunition, and is arranging for ammunition supplies for the Russian-made artillery that Ukraine forces currently operate.

Some 50 Ukraine troops have already been trained to use the US howitzers, and more are being trained this week.

Meanwhile France is sending its ultra-advanced Caesar mobile howitzer, and the Czech Republic is delivering its older self-propelled howitzers.

Canada too is sending howitzers and advanced, guided “Excalibur” shells that can travel more than 40 kilometers and deliver munitions precisely on target.

“The fight they’re in in the Donbas is going to be heavily reliant on what we call long-range fires, artillery particularly,” a senior US defense official said.

“That’s why we’re focusing them on getting them artillery as well as tactical UAVs,” the official said.

That was a reference to allies supplying “suicide drones,” bomb-armed unmanned aerial vehicles that can be directed for hours to search out and then explode themselves on Russian targets.

But no one is saying such a strategy will allow Ukraine to fully drive out the Russians.

If Kyiv does prevail in the artillery showdown, it will “eventually force them (Russia) to either escalate or negotiate realistically,” said Jacobson.

“Russia will be frustrated but not defeated.”

 

AFP

Oil Surges Back Up On Russia Tensions

A graphic showing the rising prices of crude oil.
A graphic showing the rising prices of crude oil.

 

Oil prices soared Thursday on tensions surrounding key producer Russia, while global equities mostly rose as markets digested monetary tightening moves by central banks.

The price of benchmark oil contract, Brent North Sea crude, jumped more than eight percent to race past $100 per barrel after Russia rejected a ruling from the UN’s top court to suspend its Ukraine offensive.

“Russia’s invasion is still dictating price action… given the country’s global importance in terms of supply,” Interactive Investor analyst Victoria Scholar told AFP.

The surge in oil prices has added to worries about inflation, prompting a warning Thursday from the OECD that fallout from the conflict could cut global economic growth by over one percentage point in the first year after the invasion.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Asks Turkey To Be Among Guarantors Of Any Russia Deal

Despite together only accounting for “about two percent” of the global economy, Russia and Ukraine’s importance as exporters of raw material, food and energy mean the conflict’s impact is likely to be felt beyond their borders, the OECD grouping of developed economies said.

“If sustained,” the impact would produce “a deep recession in Russia” and further increase global consumer price inflation by approximately 2.5 percentage points, it added.

The warning came as Russia’s finance ministry said it had carried out interest payments on two foreign bonds, avoiding default for now after it was hit by unprecedented Western sanctions.

Central banks 

Central banks were in focus again as the Bank of England (BoE) raised its main interest rate by a quarter point, following the US Federal Reserve’s decision to do the same the day before.

The hike, widely anticipated by analysts, was the BoE’s third straight rate rise as it battles decades-high UK inflation.

“The global economy faces elevated levels of inflation because of various factors, including from surging energy and commodity prices,” said Fawad Razaqzada, analyst at ThinkMarkets.

But US stocks extended a strong rally, with the Dow notching its third straight session of gains over one percent.

Higher oil prices usually weigh on the broader equity market, but stocks continued to benefit from positive momentum, analysts said.

Earlier, London finished 1.2 percent up but the German DAX was off 0.4 percent while Paris edged modestly into the green.

In Asia, Hong Kong’s main Hang Seng index closed with another massive gain, adding seven percent as investors pile back in after China’s pledge to support markets.

China’s top economic official has vowed measures to support beaten-down markets and indicated that a debilitating crackdown on the technology sector was nearing its end.

“The statement addressed so many issues on various fronts, which is really rare,” said Ding Shuang at Standard Chartered.

Key figures around 2040 GMT 

Brent North Sea crude: UP 8.8 percent at $106.64 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 8.4 percent at $102.98 per barrel

New York – DOW: UP 1.2 percent at 34,480.76 (close)

New York – S&P 500: UP 1.2 percent at 4,411.67 (close)

New York – Nasdaq: UP 1.3 percent at 13,614.78 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.3 percent at 7,385.34 (close)

Frankfurt – DAX: DOWN 0.4 percent at 14,388.06 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.4 percent at 6,612.52 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,885.32 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 7.0 percent at 21,501.23 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 3.5 percent at 26,652.88 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 1.4 percent at 3,215.04 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1095 from $1.1035 late Wednesday

Pound/dollar: FLAT at $1.3149

Euro/pound: UP at 84.35 pence from 83.93 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 118.64 yen from 118.73 yen

AFP

13-Year-Old Boy Kills Nine While Driving Truck In Texas

In this file photo, a Bryan Police Department officer maintains a perimeter near the scene of a shooting at Kent Moore Cabinets on April 8, 2021, in Bryan. Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images/AFP

 

A 13-year-old boy was driving a pickup truck that collided with a van carrying a college golf team in west Texas, killing nine people, officials said Thursday.

Six members of the New Mexico-based University of the Southwest golf team were killed in Tuesday night’s crash along with their coach, according to police.

The 13-year-old boy and his 38-year-old father who was riding in the pickup truck also died in the accident, which occurred near Andrews, Texas.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Dodge 2500 pickup veered into the oncoming lane, colliding head-on with the van.
Both vehicles caught fire.

READ ALSO: Russian Missiles Destroy Aircraft Repair Plant In Ukraine’s Lviv – Mayor

Bruce Landsberg, the vice-chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, was quoted by KWES TV in Odessa, Texas as saying the minor was behind the wheel of the pickup truck at the time of the accident.

The 13-year-old was violating Texas law. A resident may obtain a learner’s permit in the state beginning at the age of 15 which allows them to drive with a licensed adult over 21.

Landsberg was also quoted by KWES TV as saying the pickup’s left front tire appears to have blown out before the crash, which occurred with both vehicles traveling at high speed.

Two University of the Southwest students, both Canadians, are in hospital in critical condition.

AFP

FG Approves US Request To Extradite Abba Kyari 

Kyari was the poster boy of the Nigerian police until his recent travails. Credit: [email protected]_Towncrier

 

Nigeria has approved the request by the United States for the extradition of suspended Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Abba Kyari.

Kyari is wanted to stand trial for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft.

He was accused of conspiring with a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Nigerian, Ramon Abbas, aka Hushpuppi to commit the crime.

A grand jury, last April 29, filed an indictment against Kyari with the approval of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had on Tuesday filed an application before the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja for Kyari’s extradition.

The application marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/249/2022 was filed under the Extradition Act.

The AGF said the application followed a request by the Diplomatic Representative of the U.S. Embassy in Abuja.


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A photo combination of a deputy commissioner of police, Abba Kyari and alleged fraudster, Ramon Abbas, aka, Hushpuppi.

 

It is “for the surrender of Abba Alhaji Kyari, who is a subject in a superseding three counts indictment”.

In the affidavit filed in support of the extradition application, the AGF stated that he was satisfied that provision is made by the laws of the U.S. such that so long as Kyari has not had a reasonable opportunity of returning to Nigeria, he will not be detained or tried for any offence committed before his surrender other than the extradition offence which can be proved by the fact on which his surrender is sought.

He added that he was satisfied that the offence in respect of which Kyari’s surrender is sought is not political nor is it trivial.

The AGF also expressed satisfaction that the request for the surrender of Kyari was not made to persecute or punish him on account of his race, religion, nationality or political opinions but in good faith and the interest of justice.

He added that Kyari, “if surrendered, will not be prejudiced at his trial and will not be punished, detained or restricted in his personal liberty, by reason of his race, nationality or political opinions”.

The AGF said having regard to all the circumstances in which the offence was committed, it will not be unjust or oppressive, or be too severe a punishment, to surrender him.

Malami said he was also satisfied that Kyari has been accused of the offence for which his surrender is sought.

He noted that there was no criminal proceeding pending against Kyari in Nigeria for the same offence.

According to court documents, the three count-charge marked: 2:21-cr-00203-RGK, was filed on April 29, 2021, before the US District Court for the Central District of California, USA.

The charge filed along with the extradition application reads:

• Count one: Conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349, carrying a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years;

• Count two: Conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code Section 1956(h), carrying a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.

• Count three: Aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting that offence, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1028A(a)(1) and 2(a), carrying a maximum term of imprisonment of two years.

In the request for Kyari’s extradition, the U.S. Embassy stated: “On April 29, 2021, based on the indictment filed by the grand jury and with the approval of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, a deputy clerk of the court issued a warrant of arrest for Kyari.

“The arrest warrant remains valid and executable to apprehend Kyari for the crimes with which he is charged in the indictment.

“Kyari is wanted to stand trial in the United States for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, and identity theft.

“Kyari is the subject of an indictment in case Number 2:21-cr-00203 (also referred to as 2:21-MJ-00760 and 2:21-CR-00203-RGK), filed April 29, 2021, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.”

UK Defence Minister Takes A Swipe At Putin, Says He Has ‘Gone Full Tonto’

A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) shows Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (C) hosting a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Defence Ministers meeting at at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, central England on February 22, 2022. (Photo by Sgt Jimmy Wise / MOD / AFP)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has “gone full tonto” by ordering his troops into two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, Britain’s defence secretary said Wednesday in unguarded comments to military officials.

Ben Wallace made the candid comments suggesting Putin had lost his mind while also comparing the Russian leader to Tsar Nicholas I, who struggled for allies during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.

“We’ve got a busy adversary now in Putin, who has gone full tonto,” Wallace — a former army officer — told serving personnel in a government building in Westminster, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.

“Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did… he had no friends, no alliances.

“The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea — we can always do it again,” Wallace, who served in the same regiment, was overheard saying.

READ ALSO: Germany Can Do Without Russian Gas, Minister Says

The minister’s unvarnished assessment came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said Putin was in an “illogical and irrational frame of mind”.

Asked about Wallace’s reported assessment, Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters: “The defence secretary is more astute to make that judgment than I.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meanwhile said Putin was “highly likely” to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attack Kyiv.

Britain and the US have repeatedly cited intelligence as indicating that Moscow is planning such a move.

However, Truss noted London does not yet have “the full evidence” that Russian troops have crossed into Ukrainian territory, including rebel-held areas, calling the current situation “ambiguous”.

– ‘Defensive weapons’ –

Meanwhile in parliament, Johnson confirmed Britain would send further military supplies to Ukraine “in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour” from Russia.

“This will include lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid,” he told MPs.

The UK last month deployed some 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Kyiv along with military trainers — who have since left the country — as Western nations stepped up their support for Ukraine.

London is ready to guarantee up to $500 million (£368 million) in loans to Kyiv to promote economic stability and reforms, the foreign office said ahead of Johnson’s comments.

READ ALSO: Gas Prices ‘In God’s Hands’, Producers Warn As Ukraine Crisis Sparks Surge

In December, it increased the amount of financial support available to Ukraine to £3.5 billion and signed a treaty on modernising its navy.

Earlier this month it also announced £100 million in extra assistance to be provided over three years to help the ex-Soviet country boost the economy and reduce dependency on energy imports.

The latest commitments come a day after Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson branded “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions.

However, he faced criticism from numerous lawmakers, including from within his ruling Conservatives, that the measures were woefully insufficient.

He and his ministers have insisted tougher measures are set to follow but depend on Moscow’s actions.

Johnson also announced Wednesday that his culture minister had asked media regulator Ofcom to review the UK broadcasting licence of Kremlin-backed television channel RT.

In a leaked letter to Ofcom, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged the agency to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread “harmful disinformation”.

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter to AFP, adding: “All licensees must observe Ofcom’s rules, including due accuracy and due impartiality.

READ ALSO: Pope Warns Of ‘Increasingly Alarming Scenarios’ In Ukraine

“If broadcasters break those rules, we will not hesitate to step in. Given the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis, we will examine complaints about any broadcaster’s news coverage of this issue as a priority.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back on Telegram saying “If Britain turns its threat towards Russian media into a reality, retaliatory measures will not take long to come.

“British journalists can ask their German colleagues what this looks like,” she said.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle closed its Moscow bureau at the start of this month after Russia shut the outlet’s local operations to punish Germany for banning a service of a Russian state TV network.

Western Leaders To Hold Talks On Ukraine Amid War Fears

Ukrainian servicemen unload a Boeing 747-412 plane with the FGM-148 Javelin, American man-portable anti-tank missile provided by US to Ukraine as part of a military support, at Kyiv's airport Boryspil on February 11,2022, amid the crisis linked with the threat of Russia's invasion. Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP
Ukrainian servicemen unload a Boeing 747-412 plane with the FGM-148 Javelin, American man-portable anti-tank missile provided by US to Ukraine as part of a military support, at Kyiv’s airport Boryspil on February 11,2022, amid the crisis linked with the threat of Russia’s invasion.
Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

Western leaders are to hold talks on Friday over the Ukraine crisis, German sources said, as the United States warned that a Russian invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbour could be days away.

US President Joe Biden, who has urged Americans to leave Ukraine, will hold a telephone conference on the crisis with six leaders and the heads of NATO and the European Union, German government sources told AFP.

The talks are set to begin at 1600 GMT.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday warned anew of the “real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe”, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a Russian invasion could come “any time”.

READ ALSO: Russia All Set For Military Move On Ukraine, Says Norway

Russia is operationally ready to conduct a wide range of military operations in Ukraine and the Kremlin just needs to make the call, the head of Norway’s military intelligence service said.

Several rounds of diplomacy have failed to ease tensions on Europe’s doorstep that some describe as the continent’s worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

The Kremlin said Friday there were “no results” from the most recent diplomatic foray — a four-way meeting of political advisors from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in Berlin.

Biden will confer over the telephone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and the prime ministers of Italy, Britain and Canada and the president of Poland, the German sources said.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and European Union leaders will take part, they added.

Western leaders have for months raised the alarm over a possible invasion of Ukraine as tens of thousands of Russian troops mass along the border.

Russia has denied any plan to invade.

It says it is seeking written guarantees from NATO that the alliance will withdraw its presence from eastern Europe and never expand into Ukraine.

The United States and its European allies have rejected those demands.

Fresh military drills

Fuelling concerns, Russia is holding large-scale military drills with ally Belarus, which borders Ukraine and the European Union.

Moscow and Minsk have not disclosed how many troops are participating, but the United States has said around 30,000 soldiers were being dispatched to Belarus from locations including Russia’s Far East.

In addition, Russia’s defense ministry said Friday it will also hold fresh military exercises near Ukraine’s border and in the Black Sea.

Moscow, which controls the Crimea peninsula after annexing it from Ukraine in 2014, has made the Black Sea a strategic priority.

Macron shuttled between Moscow and Kyiv earlier this week in the search for a diplomatic solution, and Scholz is expected to do the same in the coming days.

Scholz will also hold his first in-person meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was in Moscow Friday for rare talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

He was accompanied by the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff Tony Radakin, and the pair will also meet Russia’s top army general Valery Gerasimov.

Wallace’s visit comes a day after Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow for talks that appeared fruitless and ended in mutual accusations.

‘Difficult’ talks

Disappointment ensued after a meeting between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, under the mediation of Germany and France.

Sources described the meeting as “difficult” and said it lasted for more than nine hours.

After the talks, the Kremlin once again accused Ukraine of not adhering to the 2015 Minsk agreements between Kyiv and Moscow on the separatist conflict in the east of the country.

Kyiv’s negotiator Andriy Yermak, however, told a late night briefing after that “everyone is determined to reach a result”.

The four-way “Normandy” format was launched in 2014 in a bid to end fighting between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

According to Germany, the next Normandy talks will take place in March.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Biden issued a stark warning to his citizens, urging them to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.

“American citizens should leave, should leave now,” Biden told NBC News. “We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world.

“He added that “things could go crazy quickly.”

But Ukraine, which has frequently downplayed warnings from Washington, dismissed the order as “nothing new”.

Washington has warned Moscow of unprecedented sanctions if its tanks roll into Ukraine, in particular promising an end to the controversial new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

The United State has also announced the deployment of several thousand troops to bolster NATO forces in eastern Europe.

 

AFP

US Deploys Troops To Support NATO In Ukraine Standoff

In this image released by the US Department of Defense, two NATO supply soldiers prepare to move to the location of their next mission during Allied Spirit 22 military exercise on January 31, 2022. (Photo by Alun Thomas / US DEPARTMENT OF STATE / AFP)

 

The United States said Wednesday it was deploying thousands of troops to bolster NATO forces in eastern Europe, ratcheting up its military response to fears that Russia could invade Ukraine.

Russia has massed than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, and Western leaders have warned that any incursion into the ex-Soviet nation would be met with “severe consequences.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 1,000 US troops in Germany would deploy to Romania, and 2,000 based in the United States would be sent to Germany and Poland.

“It’s important that we send a strong signal to (President Vladimir) Putin and the world that NATO matters to the United States,” Kirby said, adding “this is not the sum total of the deterrence actions that we will take.”

“These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine,” he stressed. “They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.”

As NATO leaders pursued diplomatic efforts to avert any invasion of pro-Western Ukraine, a senior Kremlin official stressed that Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shared views on global security.

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Russia denies any plans to invade its neighbor, with Putin accusing the West of failing to respect Moscow’s security concerns.

The Kremlin said China would explicitly back Russia’s stance when Putin visits Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics this week.

“China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees,” the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.

Russian officials have demanded a ban on Ukraine joining NATO and on the deployment of missile systems near Russia’s borders, as well as a pullback of the US-led military alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.

– ‘Ukraine just a tool’ –

In his first major remarks on the crisis in weeks, Putin on Tuesday suggested Washington was using Kyiv as an instrument to potentially drag Moscow into a war.

“Ukraine itself is just a tool to achieve this goal” of containing Russia, Putin said.

Putin left the door open to talks however, saying he hoped that “in the end we will find a solution.”

The United States and NATO have provided written responses to Moscow’s demands, which Putin said he is studying.

Spanish newspaper El Pais on Wednesday published what it said were leaked copies of the responses, which showed Washington and NATO offering Moscow arms control and trust-building measures.

The proposals remain firm on insisting that Ukraine and any other country have a right to apply to join the alliance.

But the reported US response suggests “reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was meanwhile the latest NATO leader to visit Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine, where he met President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After the talks, Zelensky said Ukraine was focused “only on peace”, but insisted it has the right to defend itself.

The Ukrainian leader had met a day earlier with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was due to hold a phone call with Putin on Wednesday.

Tensions have been further aggravated by plans for joint military exercises between Russia and neighboring Belarus, where Washington claims Moscow is preparing to send 30,000 troops.

While stressing that “conflict is not inevitable,” Kirby on Wednesday accused Putin of continuing “to destabilize the environment by adding more forces to the western part of his country and Belarus.”

Video footage released by the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday showed tanks speeding across snowy fields in Belarus and combat helicopters flying overhead as units from both countries practised ahead of the February 10-20 drills.

Ukraine has been battling Moscow-backed insurgencies in two separatist regions since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting, the last major ongoing war in Europe.

AFP

China Threatens ‘Countermeasures’ If US Boycotts Olympics

A file photo of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lijian Zhao.
A file photo of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lijian Zhao.

 

China said Monday it will take “countermeasures” if the United States called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, hours after unconfirmed reports that the Biden administration could announce such a move this week.

CNN and NBC cited unnamed sources Sunday as saying the diplomatic boycott — meaning no US government officials would attend the Games, but athletes would still compete — could be revealed this week, after President Joe Biden said in November it was something he was “considering.”

Biden is under pressure at home to speak out on China’s human rights abuses, especially in Xinjiang where the US government says repression of the Uyghur ethnic group qualifies as genocide.

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In response to reports Beijing said such a move would be “pure grandstanding”.

“I want to stress that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing on Monday, warning the US should stop “hyping” the boycott.

“If the US is bent on having its own way, China will take resolute countermeasures,” Zhao said.

Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

Coming just six months after the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games, the Winter Olympics will be held from February 4 to 20 in a “closed loop” bubble because of Covid-19 restrictions.

AFP

US Urges Cuba To Lift Protest Ban Ahead Of Demonstrations

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken

 

The United States urged Cuban authorities on Sunday to lift a ban on protests ahead of planned anti-government demonstrations, the State Department said in a statement.

“We call on the Cuban government to respect Cubans’ rights, by allowing them to peacefully assemble and use their voices without fear of government reprisal or violence, and by keeping Internet and telecommunication lines open for the free exchange of information,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Cuba’s opposition has called for demonstrations in Havana and six provinces on Monday — which have been prohibited by the communist authorities — to call for the release of political prisoners.

More than 1,200 people were arrested during history-making protests in July, with more than 650 of them still in detention, according to NGO Cubalex.

Blinken hit out at the Cuban government’s crackdown on the protests and condemned “intimidation tactics” of blocking protests, firing opposition supporters and threatening them with detention ahead of Monday’s demonstrations.

“We urge the Cuban government to reject violence, and instead, embrace this historic opportunity to listen to the voices of their people,” Blinken said, calling on other democratic states to “echo our support for Cuban demonstrators.”

He added the United States will continue to “promote accountability for the Cuban regime’s repression and human rights violations.”

Havana has accused Washington of backing the protests in an effort to destabilize the Cuban government.